Unplugging to Recharge

A message from MCE Dean Karen Riley

Several years ago we at MCE tried something new. During a Thanksgiving break, we decided to make an agreement that we would unplug from email and truly disconnect from work in order to recharge and focus on friends and family. For those who wanted to work, we asked that they not simply empty their inbox into the inbox of their colleagues, but rather place their responses in their outbox and schedule the delivery time for Monday morning. The feedback on this was overwhelmingly positive on all fronts. We adopted this as an operating approach across the College as we felt it aligned with our values and strengthened our culture.

We then took this policy one step further. I had a practice of catching up on email late into the night and sometimes into the early morning. During our retreats and meetings, I would tell the faculty and staff that they did not need to respond to my late night/early morning emails. This was not good leadership. There was a disconnect between my words and my actions. I was also not modeling a balance between work and home. I also began hearing statements like “I thought I would send this now (at 8:30 pm) because I know you get back on your email at this time in the evening.” We also had some departments who were engaging in email exchanges late into the evening when people were tired. These emails often times escalated as the evening progressed and resulted in hard feelings. They were not productive in addressing concerns.

So in another retreat, I named the issue and took responsibility for modeling this ineffective behavior. I suggested an MCE policy that we not send emails after 6:00 pm if at all possible. Again in emergencies we certainly understood the need to reach out. The policy is that after 6:00 pm put the email in your outbox and schedule it for the following workday. We wanted people to engage with their families and not to feel guilty if they were not on email every evening.

Again the feedback on this has been extremely positive. Unfortunately, we have some who do not adhere to this approach and it does highlight the negative aspects of sending emails late into the night. Below, please find part of the message that I sent out before the Thanksgiving Day weekend. These are the gentle reminders that are sent out each long weekend. The policy is also reviewed at each retreat.

“I hope your break is fulfilling. I want to thank all of you for all of your hard work during the fall quarter. It was busy, but very productive. I appreciate all that you do for our students and our community, and how you support and encourage each other. I am humbled to work with such a dedicated group of faculty and staff. As we have done in the past, we want you to relax and recharge. Remember to unplug during this holiday and enjoy your time away from work. Let’s take time away from our email and focus on our family and friends. A gentle reminder, if you choose to catch up a bit on your email, please put it in your outbox so that we are not filling up the inboxes of our colleagues. If you have an emergency or need to get in touch with me you can text or call me on my cell phone ###-###-####.”